For Behind The Beat, Thomas Hobbs spoke with Cool and Dre about producing The Game and 50 Cent’s “Hate It Or Love It,” the best rags-to-riches song since The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.”
In 2005, New York and Compton briefly united for the kind of rap anthem that is so charming you could comfortably play it at a family BBQ without receiving any strange looks from the over-70s. Yet the classic music video for The Game and 50 Cent’s “Hate It Or Love It,” which features the two rappers riding through each other’s respective hoods like blood brothers, was all an illusion. “I hate to break the news, but those guys had to shoot their parts for that music video separately,” says the song’s co-producer Dre, one half of Miami-based rap production duo Cool and Dre. “They couldn’t bear to be in the same room together.”
“They superimposed them together in the low-rider with green screen,” adds Cool. “It almost didn’t happen. The song was so big, I guess they had no choice but to do it. It was a Super Bowl kind of record.”
Released at the start of the year, “Hate It Or Love It,” the third single from the West Coast rapper’s much-hyped Aftermath Records’ debut, The Documentary, combined inner-city defiance with an infectious, soulful instrumental. The transition from the two rappers relinquishing their teenage demons (“Coming up I was confused, my mommy kissing a girl” spits 50) to embracing their unexpected rise beyond the summit of the rap game was motivational for everyone who pressed play.
The Game was supposed to be 50 Cent’s G-Unit representative on the West Coast and the pair’s chemistry was so natural, many expected them to dominate mainstream rap together. But after Game publicly refused to condemn Jadakiss and Fat Joe for teaming up with 50’s arch nemesis Ja Rule on the rousing 2004 single “New York,” the G-Unit general cut him off over a perceived lack of loyalty. Having produced “New York” and “Hate It Or Love It”, which were both released within a three month span, Cool and Dre were caught in a strange position.
“They had dug a 30-foot ditch for Ja Rule, so the song ‘New York’ had a huge impact,” Dre said. “But even though it was supposed to unite the city, it actually ended up tearing it apart. There’s 100 stories of wild things that happened behind the scenes after ‘New York’ and ‘Hate It Or Love It’ dropped, and a lot of real life shit went down, too. Game was the hottest new artist and 50 was the biggest artist on the planet, so ‘Hate It Or Love It’ was just perfect timing. We were blessed to have those two songs out right at the start of our production careers, as they both sounded so different and showed our range. But it was also weird [being caught in the middle of a feud].”
Cool and Dre’s ascent into rap production royalty is a tale of perseverance. The pair met at high school and were united by their shared love of hustling on the playground — Dre sold pieces of pizza to his friends at a profit, while Cool sold his DJ mixtapes with artwork he made on the school photocopier. Their love for hip hop grew from playing x-rated gangster rap records by N.W.A and the 2 Live Crew out a boombox over at Cool’s house, where his parents were none the wiser due to their poor grasp of English.
They ended up singing in an R&B group, where they aspired to be the Hispanic-equivalent of Boyz II Men. But with no budget to work with producers, the pair purchased a second hand keyboard and took matters into their own hands. Obsessed with gangster movies, Cool and Dre wanted their production to replicate the feeling of Sharon Stone sauntering through the Las Vegas desert in a mink coat during Martin Scorsese’s Casino. Their sound had to be luxurious and glamorous, but also sticky and sun-kissed.
Having both grown up in North Miami, the pair naturally channelled the euphoria of Miami bass and the sweaty nightlife of the Floridan City via their distinctive popping hi-hats. Yet their beats also possessed the China White-raw, cinematic sheen of all those great gangster rap records.
“We came up [during] a time where the ‘Super Producer’ tag held a lot of weight,” Dre said. “The people me and Cool were trying to emulate were the guys who weren’t just dominating rap but were making rock and pop hits too. It was people like The Neptunes, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Swizz Beats. You had Kanye West, Scott Storch, and Lil Jon just breaking through too. Being in the midst of all that forced you to be great. You had to be extraordinary just to make a dent.”
Still at the start of their careers and with only a makeshift studio in Cool’s parents’ garage, the creation of “Hate It Or Love It” came after Cool picked up a 3-inch pile of vinyls at a mom and pop store during a visit to Tallahassee, Florida. Amongst it was a dusty copy of The Trammps’ The Legendary Zing album and, after getting home, Cool couldn’t stop playing its highlight “Rubber Band,” a soulful track that taps into heartbreak and feeling exhausted at the idea of being bottom of America’s social hierarchy. (The emotive hook tellingly features the lyrics: “Stretch me out like a rubber band, you’ve got my life in the palm of your hand.”)
Even if the vocals on the song — which was also sampled by J Dilla on “Dilla Says Go” — are sombre, its sparse instrumentation is anything but, with a sumptuous string section and soul-cleansing horns combining to truly lift your spirit. It’s the type of music that instantly sparks nostalgia, forcing you to reminisce on the better days from your childhood, which could explain why the YouTube comments for “Hate It Or Love It” are filled with people sharing intensely personal memories.
“It felt like the music was really speaking to me on a whole different level,” agrees Cool. “It was so nostalgic. But I heard it on a completely different feel to Dre. I chopped it up on the MPC and the beat had a “21 Questions” type of swing. It had a whole different bounce at that stage.”
Having become obsessed with “Encore” off JAY-Z’s The Black Album, Dre says he brought the same energy of that Kanye West-produced song back into the garage studio. “Cool always had samples on the MPC and I pressed play to see what he was working on. ‘Rubber Band’ was there. He had it flipped one way, but because of my love of ‘Encore’, which I think I had played 30 times in a row on the drive up to the studio in my Jeep, I cut it so the guitars and the horn had more [of a punch].
“Cool loved it. He put the hi-hat sample in there, which became synonymous with our sound, and we called in the bass player who came in and did his thing. It has that vocal sample of the ‘arrggh,’ which sounds like someone’s dad singing in the kitchen. It just felt special, bro. We wanted our beats to be a hit before the artist even touched it. We wanted the artist to be so captivated by the beat that the words would flow out of them.”
But despite feeling special to the duo, the beat remained unsold for two years. R&B singer Syleena Johnson passed on it, a decision she probably still regrets to this day. Late rap executive Chris Lighty recognized its power, passing it on to G-Unit’s President Sha Money XL. “Sha is the one who put it right in 50 Cent’s hand,” Cool said. “50 had already had the hook for “Hate It Or Love It” in his head, but didn’t have the right beat for it until that moment. Dr. Dre had heard the song and asked 50 to give it to Game for his album. It felt like God wanted the world to hear this record, as had Dre not heard it on that specific day, it might never have been created.”
When 50 Cent recorded his parts for “Hate It Or Love It” he was the biggest rapper on the planet, known for an abrasive yet melodic, slightly slurred, rapping style that made being rich sound like his birthright. But just like how The Trammps’ sample had sparked nostalgia in Cool, it also awoke something deep within 50. His heartfelt verse taps into the pain of being poor as a teenager, balancing memories of having his bike stolen with feeling God-like after listening to Rakim and buying a “four finger ring” and “one of them gold ropes” with drug money. Before “Hate It Or Love It” 50 felt more like a bulletproof Black superhero. After it, arguably, he felt much more relatable. It’s the closest a 2000s rap verse came to matching The Notorious B.I.G.’s rags-to-riches energy on “Juicy.”
However, Game’s blunt metaphors, which mix references to gangbanging with socially conscious philosophy, were also more than good enough to be chanted by stadiums. His lyrics — particularly, “Thinking how they spent 30 million dollars on airplanes / when there’s kids starvin’ / Pac is Gone and Brenda is still throwing babies in the garbage” — painted a raw picture of how people in the inner-cities felt ignored by the political establishment. “One of Game’s greatest qualities as a songwriter is how graphic his metaphors are,” Dre said. “His lyrics hit you like a sledgehammer to the head, bro. 50 and Game both made that song timeless.”
“Hate It Or Love It” peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming The Game’s highest-charting single to date. It was featured on two classics: The Documentary, which sold 5 million copies, and as a G-Unit remix on 50’s The Massacre, which sold more than 10 million. When Mary J. Blige dropped a successful remix, shouting out Cool and Dre towards the end of the track, the Miami duo knew their lives had changed forever; it wouldn’t be long until they made it out of Cool’s garage.
“The first time we met [Interscope co-founder] Jimmy Iovine he told us “Hate It Or Love It” was in the top five records of his entire career as an executive,” Dre said. “He knew Dr. Dre had mixed the record and told us, ‘I want to hear the original beat, so I can see what Dr. Dre did to it.’ I think he assumed [Dr. Dre was the reason it became a hit]. Cool opened up the laptop and pressed play, and the original sounded exactly the same as the finished beat. Jimmy was like, ‘Oh shit, you guys really do produce.’
The song propelled Cool and Dre’s career to new heights, and the pair ended up working memorably with the likes of Juvenile (“Rodeo”), Lil Wayne (“Phone Home”), and Fat Joe and Remi Ma (“All The Way Up”). To date, the songs they’ve produced have sold over 75 million records. Aside from working on a new solo album for Dre, Cool says the duo are most inspired currently by helping the next generation find their voice.
“We never had any big brother producers to take us under their wing and our production had to sell itself,” Cool said. “We have this thing where we listen to new artists and producers and provide them all with constructive feedback. Many of them we end up working with. I guess we want to empower the next Cool and Dre’s.”
Dre reveals the pair are also trying to persuade Lil Wayne to make a Rebirth 2. Cool and Dre were responsible for producing some of the original, divisive rock-rap opus’ best songs such as “Fire” and “I’ll Die For You.” “I remember calling Wayne after seeing him perform on [Saturday Night Live] with a band for Tha Carter 3 and telling him if he was a rock star, he’d be the best frontman ever. Like, better than Axl Rose,” Dre said.
“He said, ‘fuck it, you make the music and we can do it.’ The album never got the credit it deserved. Rolling Stone magazine destroyed Rebirth, but it lit the fuse for Lil Uzi Vert and the new generation love it. We just made a ‘Phone Home 2’ for Wayne. It would be dope as fuck to do a Rebirth 2.”
Whatever the future holds, Cool and Dre agree they are more than happy to be defined by the “Hate It Or Love It” beat. “If you grew up in the projects fucked up then that song’s message hits you in the heart. Even if you didn’t grow up in the ’jects, hearing 50 and Game rap about all the traumatic things they’ve overcome [to be successful] is inspiring,” Dre said. “I guess everyone loves the idea of an underdog story. Look, you know you have a big record when your parents ring up and say: “I loved that song!” I just wish we had got the chance to have a 50 and Game album, produced by Cool and Dre.”
Banner graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
Thomas Hobbs is a freelance culture and music journalist from the UK. His work has appeared in the Guardian, VICE, Financial Times, Dazed, Pitchfork, New Statesman, Little White Lies, The i and Time Out. You can find him on Twitter: @thobbsjourno.